Metroid: Other M – mega hands-on

Every element of Metroid: Other M defies convention. Nintendo’s demure space lady is in the hands of a studio best known for their jiggling lady-tech (don’t pretend you’ve never heard of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball). Players discover a third-person adventure that becomes first-person with a flick of the wrist. Surprising, alienating, alarming. Nintendo isn’t playing by its own rules. Exciting, isn’t it?

Above: Venus flytraps (Chompicus horribilus) will chew Samus up and spit her from the aerial walkway. Death in Other M is a suitably lonely affair. When Samus bites it, her Varia Suit flickers out of existence and leaves her frail Zero Suit form for the monsters to snack on

Our latest hands-on takes us into the shrubbery-laden belly of the Bottle Ship’s biodome. Quick recap for readers just out of cryostasis: immediately after the events of Super Metroid, Samus is coaxed to the abandoned Bottle Ship by an SOS. Encountering Galactic Federation soldiers (including her ex-boss Adam Malkovich) and a few rotting scientists, she agrees to help the troops get to the bottom of the ‘rotting scientists’ bit. First stop is an intergalactic arboretum.

After the unwelcoming metallic sheen of the Bottle Ship’s docking bay, the biodome offers a far stronger impression of Other M’s artistic direction. Bold neon hues echo Metroid Fusion’s more garish palette – producer Yoshio Sakamoto is clearly distancing Other M from Retro Studios’ realistic Primes. Phlegmy green vines and cherry Kool-aid leaves clearly come from the same artistic director as the E-number blues and yellows of Samus’ Fusion Suit. Eyes take time to adjust to the style, but after seven years of Retro’s moody death forests we quite like having a vibrant playground in which to melt monsters.

Above: This drenched forest shows off lovely water effects as droplets pitter-patter on a nearby pond. Bet they make quite the racket on Samus’ helmet

The greenhouse has grown seriously out of control. Plants snake over once pristine walkways and bug-eyed insects hum menacingly in the darkness above. These bugs (Reos - long-serving arm-cannon fodder) help demonstrate Other M’s unique perspective-swapping routine. Firing in third-person mode does away with the hovering pests – Samus’ arm cannon automatically aims at the nearest enemy in her line of sight. That doesn’t make them a pushover, mind. Their dive-bombing maneuvers must be avoided with split-second dodges – just tap the D-pad as they swipe and Samus launches herself out of harm’s way.

Dispatching Reos causes wall-mounted hives to belch out reinforcements. Now Samus gets to try out her nifty first-person cannon. The remote is usually held in the horizontal NES position, but aiming it at the screen at any time sucks you inside her suit for that familiar Prime view. Team Ninja has applied some digital WD-40 since our last hands-on and the transition glides more smoothly. We particularly like how the third-person HUD warps as it slides into place on the angled visor. From here Samus can lock on to the hive and destroy it with a missile.

Above: Samus’ vice-like grip makes short work of stiff jam jar lids and industrial shafts alike. Wall jump her up to ledges and she’ll happily hang there all day. Gripping with one hand frees up the cannon for protection – you can even enter first-person aiming mode for added precision

It should be noted that visor view isn’t an alternative play scheme. Keep Samus on the spot for too long and free-roaming enemy forces will pry her open like a tin of beans. Rather, it serves as an explosive knock-out punch: you whittle away at prominent foes, create a window of opportunity, and then surgically deliver a missile where it counts. In this light, Samus’ first-person sluggishness makes perfect sense. She’s rooting her hefty frame to the spot to brace against the killing blow. Prime has hardwired us to associate in-helmet action with nimbleness. Other M asks you to rewire, but the devs hope you’ll appreciate the new-found physicality.

Visor view has practical uses, too. In our demo this amounts to frazzling cumbersome vines blocking a doorway. Puzzles, if you can call them that, tend to focus on navigating the Bottle Ship’s twisted interior. The visor homes in on vents to morph-ball through (picking up handy missile and health upgrades on the way) and reveals door locks that prevent further progress. Prime’s measured puzzling helped ground Samus in an alien world – it forced players to embrace their surroundings and come to appreciate them better. Who can forget riding Tallon IV’s gnarly half-pipes in morph ball form? Other M could do with similar head-scratchers.

Above: Morph ball passages give the levels the same snaking complexity they had in the Prime games. Samus sure knows how to travel in style

Enough of brain matter - let’s talk brain splatter. The centerpiece of the demo is a brilliant tussle with two gargantuan space chameleons. Samus eventually finds herself inside an observation room. The question is: what was being observed? As Samus wanders across the room, the camera drops down low to trail her. Team Ninja’s in-game camera is wonderfully versatile. Quite happy to frame bigger environments with wide, zoomed-out shots, it also understands the value of creeping alongside Samus, putting us in her size-15 space boots. Crashing glass startles the camera and our view darts to a fresh gaping hole in the ceiling.